Copyright 2014 by John T. Reed

Tonight on Hannity they did a segment on a new docuseries called Friday Night Tykes about a San Antonio Texas youth football organization.

I premiered last night. I had seen a trailer about it and meant to watch it but I forgot. But I am now watching it on the Internet.

First off, I know nothing about it and already after the opening shots, I suspect the agenda of the director is to make youth football coaches look bad along the lines of certain stereotypes that many parents have about youth sports coaches. I wrote a half dozen books about youth football and one about youth baseball. I coached youth soccer, baseball, and football. I also coached high school football and volleyball. And my kids did youth swimming.

The narrator said the San Antonio youth football program is one of the most successful in Texas with many championships.

First, that tells me the coaches know what they are doing to a significant extent. I am not going to endorse every minute of what they do or every stupid things that comes out of their mouths, but you cannot consistently win in youth football if you are incompetent at coaching.

Secondly, their long-term success tells me they are neither driving their decent players away nor the parents of the decent players away. One of the myths about youth sports and youth football is that the parents force the kids to play even though they hate it.

Give me a break. When I was a kid, our parents forced us to eat vegetables. Today’s parents cannot even do that. Kids today do not do things they hate because their parents force them to.

Are they driving away weak players? Most youth coaches would if they could. The legit way to have good players is to get more to try out than you can keep then cut the weak ones. Some programs, usually run by moms, outlaw that.

In my experience, youth baseball and soccer are huge programs that have traveling teams where they cut most and keep only the best and lower level teams where no one gets cut. But youth football in my area, is almost entirely the equivalent of a traveling soccer team or an all-star baseball team. That is, it’s hard to make the team.

Stating it mathematically, in my area, the typical community has about 1,500 kids playing soccer and 1,500 playing baseball but only 140 playing youth football.

A coach in the opening tells his players, 8 and 9-year olds to “rip the opponents’ freaking heads off and make them bleed.”

You can’t say that in youth football. My wife opposed our kids playing football. She is a banker, a college graduate, a Harvard MBA, a professional woman, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. But when she came to the first game, she got caught up in it and at one point yelled during the game, “Kill them!”

“Marty,” I said to her quietly. “You’re not allowed to say stuff like that.” She’s not like that, but a mom watching other boys slam into her son as hard as they can triggers primal feelings. Steve Young likes to tell about the day he was playing youth football and his mom grabbed an opposing player and yelled at him about hitting her son, the future NFL MVP and Hall of Famer, now ESPN TV analyst.

Once, my freshman high school players were firing each other up and one yelled, “We’re going to kill them!”

“Sean,” I said, “We can’t say that.” He protested he did not mean it literally. I explained that although we knew that, sometimes kids really do get killed in football games. How would he feel if after yelling that, a boy actually was killed in the game as a result of a hard hit?

I once said something to my youth players on the field. I forget what it was. A ref quietly said to me, “Not at this level, coach.” I had said something that was common fire-each-other-up stuff from my playing days in high school.

I must add that I coached in San Ramon, Danville, and Orinda, CA; all affluent highly educated communities. I coached high school football at Orinda, Danville, and Livermore, CA. Livermore was a bit more blue-collar, but even there, you had to be somewhat careful how you talked to the kids.

The coaches in the first Friday Night Tykes episode look and talk very blue collar.

But make no mistake, the players in football have to be fired up and the coaches have to fire them up if they are not doing it themselves. That is not misbehavior. It is mere competence. How they do it might cross the line, but the basic idea is getting fired up is an absolute minimum part of all football including youth.

Coaches in the FNT clips get mad at the players and hit them on the helmet. That is not appropriate, although swatting a helmet in a way that doesn’t move it is unacceptably ugly, but a helmet is a helmet. The kids does not feel anything. Players and coaches often hit each other not out of inappropriate anger but just because communicating through pads and helmets by definition requires some force or the kid will not know you did anything. That is also why players and coaches hit players on the behind. Women think that’s funny and a bit eye-brow-raising with regard to sexuality. No. It’s just the only spot on the kid’s body where he can feel the tap. Everything else is covered with pads.

A coach tells a player that instead of getting hurt by a hit, he needs to be the one who delivers the blow. Okay. That’s true, but then the kid is shown spearing another player in practice and no comment is made about how illegal and dangerous that is. Later it happens again in the open field with no correction on the video.

On the rare occasions when that happened in one of our practices—in spite of our having warned the players against it a hundred times and showed them a video about the danger of spine injuries—we would stop practice to repeat the no-spearing lecture. Maybe the director cut it out, but the shot showed a spear and no correction of it. That is the kind of thing that can get a coach and youth football organization sued into bankruptcy. National youth football organizations often provide liability insurance against such suits so they have an interest in educating the coaches not to either coach deliberate spearing or even to allow it when it happens in spite of not coaching it. I think there are enough incidents of child endangerment in this episode for a lawyer to win a case against these coaches right now just based on the video—at least to get a preliminary injunction if not damages.

One coach says there should be no reason why you don’t make the other team cry. Then he screams, “I could care less if they cry!” In my 9 years coaching youth football, I never heard any discussion, even in private among coaches, about making players cry in practice or games. Kids at the youngest ages—6 to 9—often cry on the field when they get hit hard or hurt their hand or elbow or some such. Ditto other youth sports and unsupervised activities like skate boarding. Crying at those ages is neither encouraged nor discouraged. I was not a coach who emphasized hitting as the object of every play as many coaches do. I preferred wrapping to hitting in tackling and warned my players that trying to hit a guy hard when he can see you coming and has room to maneuver is most likely to result in his side-stepping your hit. I said the big hit is generally only advisable when he cannot see you coming or cannot get out of the way.

There was a shot of a kid jumping up and down restrained by elastic straps. I suspect a doctor would not approve of growing children engaging in such weight-type training. I never did such things. Mainly I did not think we had time for them. But also I am the most safety conscious coach I ever met and I know there is a growth plate at the end of each bone in a growing child that can be permanently damaged by over use or max weight training.

One coach hits a kids on both shoulder pads in the locker room and says, “You’re ready to go to war!” At my web site and in my books I tell coaches never to equate football to war for two reasons. One is I am a Vietnam vet. Twenty of my West Point classmates were killed in Vietnam. Others were disabled. Football is not war and war is not football. If a real war veteran were next to a coach who said that to a nine-year old, I expect he would have something unfavorable to say to the coach about comments like that. The other reason is I fear that some kids who love football may graduate from high school, miss football and enlist to put something like football back into their lives, then go get themselves killed or blown to pieces.

One mom says, “You guys forget that they are babies.”

I have heard that crap a million times and I’ll take the coaches’ side on that one. First off, I know far better than a parent with one or two kids what an eight-year-old is. I coached dozens of them against hundreds of other eight year-olds. Ditto all the other ages. We do not forget anything about their age. Indeed, the implication is the coach in question is used to coaching older players. In their dreams. The typical youth coach never coached anyone older than his current players. They may be repeating something their coach told them in high school—something that is inappropriate for eight-year-olds, but the coaches are acutely aware of the capabilities and limitations of an 8-year old. The mom is typically a rookie at dealing with a 8-year old. The mom underestimates what her son is capable of because she only sees him in home and school.

I spent half my life in coaching trying to convey to my less experienced fellow coaches that 8-year-olds cannot execute complex, higher-level plays. But eight-year-olds—who are about a year too young to understand the game—do learn some stuff that year that causes them to be much better when they come back the next year. The actual trick when coaching eight-year olds is to give them as little as possible to think about and to tell the older boys on the field to make sure the eight-year olds are in the right position and so forth. But “Thank you, Mrs. Mom for your useless, ignorant, insulting input about babies anyway.”

They are not babies.

The title of the episode as weakness leaving the body. I expect it will be a line explaining to the kids why they should not worry about pain. That is totally inappropriate for kids this age. I generally did not condition them other than by running a fast-paced practice. It got the job done. Males over the age of 16 need conditioning for various reasons. With younger kids, you don’t have the practice time (we get two hours a night three nights a week—barely enough to teach plays—and they get adequately conditioned through just well-organized, up-tempo scrimmage and drills and you risk injuring their growth plates if you make them do intense calisthenics and such). Kids 16 and under do not pull muscles or get cramps or get tired in the fourth quarter—unless it is hot and humid in which case they are probably dehydrated not tired.

The coaches use the phrase “separate the boys from the men.” Okay, the kids are 8 and 9. Obviously there are no men there. But c’mon. We coaches know that they mean. Even at that age, some kids are into the hitting and others are not. Generally they all get into it over the course of the season. But initially, they are understandably contact shy. What he coaches really mean is they are looking for who has “gotten religion”—sees themselves as being the hitter—and who still sees themselves as being the hitee. Hitters start. Hitees are understudies. All season long the coaches watch the hitees so as not to miss the day they figure it out. They are separating the hitters from the hitees in those early contact practices. Don’t get too excited about the “men from the boys” phrase. I know what they mean. They know what they mean. You know what they mean.

There is an extended scene where a former Marine is yelling at kids in a one-on-one hitting test to be mean and hit harder. I expect the non-football people watching are tsk tsking about it. I have no problem with it. I would be slightly more West Pointish about it but my version of that would be essentially the same. It is the way you coach a football team even at age 8.

I disagree with making youth players run gassers especially in 99-degree heat to get them ready for the 4th quarter. I say again, I coached a lot of teams. In my last year, we repeatedly came from behind to win in the fourth quarter and we did no conditioning per se. It was all just football practice. Now my practices are a lot more organized and fast and jam packed than the vast majority of coaches. My kids are sweating and huffing and puffing and have their hands on their hips, but it’s all football, no gassers or grass drills or any of that.

Some of the kids are, indeed, quitters and lazy and have never been in any physically difficult situation in their lives, but in 99-degree heat you’d better be careful about being too quick to conclude that the kid is mentally weak. I prefer to just practice and gradually sneak physical effort in on them in the form of football stuff. These coaches are making the kids do long bear crawls in extreme heat and humidity I make them do a two-step bear crawl—if they are D linemen—each time we run a scrimmage play—as part of the play. And make them do 5 if they stand up. But that is position job description discipline, not conditioning.

To their credit, some of the youth coaches got down and bear crawled with the kids who were having trouble, but they are grown men and not wearing pads and mainly, they long ago got over regarding pain as a reason to stop. I would be more gradual with the kids. There is no need to turn the first day into the worst day of the kid’s life so far.

The kid doing the prolonged bear crawl long after everyone else finished threw up. Okay. Now we have to get that kid re-hydrated fast. He is in bad shape and also probably needs shade for at least five or ten minutes. I do not recall a player on one of my teams ever throwing up in practice. The coaches seemed to regard all not going 100% as mental. Throwing up is not mental.

One guy said his son was recruited for the team when he was three! The father said “I cannot believe that.”

Me neither. Never heard of such a thing.

What attracted the recruiter? The kid was big. Well, news flash: big kids often cannot play youth football at all ever because they never make weight.

One coach of an Oakland Raiders type 8-year old team said “We talk a lot of smack but we back it up.” That stuff has no place in youth sports and is probably explicitly prohibited in the league charter. But there is is on TV bragging about it.??? Some leagues are afraid to enforce their own rules. We were is a league that was good about that, but so many teams were so unhappy about it that the league folded.

So there is too much cheating in youth football and it continues because there are not enough coaches and organization leaders who will back up the league brass when they crack down on cheating or inappropriate behavior.

I saw some full-speed almost head-on tackling drills by the Outlaws team. As a general rule that is regarded as a very bad and dangerous idea at all levels of football. Our form tackling drills were half speed. There are some football coaching books, including mine, that say to never have full-speed tackling drills. Probably most of the other book authors regret not mentioning it. It is consensus improper.

Many coaches think the key to football is hitting the hardest. Not true. The teams of Knute Rockne and Paul Brown were famous for leaving opposing players feeling as if they had game day off. They got beat by a large margin, but never hit. In 2004, our opening game at the high school freshman level was against a team coached by that high school’s former varsity head coach. They hit the crap out of our guys. I thought it was sort of a good exercise and you could see our kids figuring out during the game, “Okay, I can hit that hard, too.” And they began to give what they had been getting. I had nothing to do with it.

We won the game handily.

I love a good, clean, legal hit. My kids have delivered some great ones. But the object of the game is to score more points than the other team, not to win a hard-hitting contest. I prefer the sure tackle and keeping the defender from tackling our ball carrier. I don’t care of you just happen to pass between the ball carrier and the defender at the right moment without touching him—Knute Rockne-Paul Brown style—or knock him down. Neither is better. Just get the job done.

In a Broncos full-speed tackling drill—which should not happen at all because it’s too dangerous and too likely to drive future good players off the team by trying to toughen them too fast—they only had one station which meant the entire team standing in line while a staff of about six coaches coached just two players. They should use multiple stations so only one or two coaches are coaching each pair of players and there is minimal time spent standing around and maximum time spent actually tackling by each player. More reps. Less standing around watching. That is one of the ways my teams get conditioned by practice, not running laps or gassers.

Half the scenes in this episode are full-speed head-on tackling drills. I will not mince words. You never do that drill. It is too dangerous. Causes too many injuries including to your starters. I was doing a head-on, one-on-one test, not drill, one year and knocked one of my best players out for most of the season with a broken collarbone. At the youngest levels, like 8 and 9, it can drive a potential good player out of football forever because it pushes him too fast into the hitting . He would have gotten it at some point during his rookie season and been a great player thereafter, but the coach wouldn’t give him the time he needed to overcome the natural fear of hitting that we are all born with. Occasionally, a kid never gets over it. But almost all do—if you let it happen at the kid’s pace. For one thing, they see the other kids getting over the fear.

One year, I decided to show the players how two veterans hit each other just so show them what they were going to become soon. One kid was so terrified by watching two veteran ten-year olds hit each other in a confined space demonstration—they only got about a two- or three-yard running start—that he ran away crying and he was never seen again in that organization. All of us, players and coaches looked at each other wondering what the heck was that. That kid I suspect was no loss. But others have more muted similar reactions and may go home and tell their parents they changed their mind about football.

In one of those full-speed head-on tackling drills, there was helmet-to-helmet contact and one kid appeared to get a concussion. That shook me up just watching the video. You cannot do such drills and you must incessantly remind the kids there will be no helmet contact. The helmet goes off to the side. You hit with your shoulder pad, not your helmet. Keep your head up. Eyes to the sky. Chin away from your chest. You cannot say it enough. Yet I almost never hear it in this TV series.

As much as many parents will be turned off by this, I expect the 8 and 9-year-old kids watching will want to play youth football as a result of it. Indeed, precisely that which turns off many of the parents will turn on the kids. They want to be football players and they want to be toughened up. They want to become men. They have plenty of time for it, but they are boys and they want to go to work on it right now. The nature of a boy.

But then there is the broncos coach saying when I say “rip” you say “head.” Then he and his players do just that.

I shrug. I am embarrassed. That is almost certainly explicitly prohibited by the charter of his league. Most nationwide youth sports rule books have a discussion about how we don’t do that in this organization.

Same guy said he was taught as a player to hit the opposing center as hard as he could before the first snap—which is a five-yard penalty—to “set a tone.” That is arguably criminal assault. Never saw such a thing at either the youth or high school level as a player or coach, nor did my son who played from youth through college. Indeed, if a youth coach did that, I expect it would take about three games for the refs and league officials to notice and ask the kid in question, “Did your coach tell you to do that?”  If yes, the coach would either be suspended or banned, as he should.

The guy in FNT then coached his player to do that assault including coaching him to pretend he was mad at himself for making the “mistake.” Criminal assault, child endangerment, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, conspiracy, with a smoking gun video of the premeditation. When the kid did it in the game, the coach who told him to protested that the center moved. When the players next came to the sideline, the coach gave his nose guard five for the assault.


Unbelievable that he did it. More unbelievable that he revealed that he did it on national TV!

I am pleased to report that the first half ended Predators 0-Thug’s team 0.

The Predators’ coach seems like he’s trying to be Mr. Politically Correct Coach or Mr. Psychologically Correct Coach. He is getting on my nerves a little for going too far in that direction. But I cannot fault him for misbehaving as a coach. I am pleased to report the “tone” the Thug’s team set seems to have gotten them nothing. It may have even caused the opponent to think they were idiots jumping off side so stupidly on the very first play of the game.

Mr. Nice Guy, who apparently has absolutely no clue whatsoever about how to coach a running back to receive a hand-off, sees his guy make a big TD run to start the second half. But that hand-off was embarrassing.

Before the final take-a-knee play by the nice guy’s team, the Thug felt compelled to yell at the other sideline that his team had won the prior year’s three-overtime, playoff game. 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Then the nice-guy’s team took a knee and won the game.


Apparently they have no minimum-play rule in this league. One kid only got one play on the losing team. We always had at least a 3-play minimum. I invented my warp-speed no huddle to make it easier to get all my players their minimum number of plays. We usually got it done in the third quarter. Most other coaches had to send in entire teams of minimum-play guys at a time near the end to avoid forfeiting the game and getting suspended. 11-minimum play guys on the field at once is an ugly sight—even uglier after the snap.

John T. Reed